You may have heard deflation is a bad thing, something to be feared. This might have been true in a scarcity based economy, but the opposite is true in an abundance based economy. No where is this more true than in the information technology sector, where annual deflation runs well over 50%. This is a huge rate of deflation, yet it comes from a sector of the economy that generates the most robust economic growth each year. Deflation is the result of advancing technology that generates greater efficiencies resulting in ephermalization – doing more and more with less and less. Ephermalization is now impacting the energy markets in earnest. Soon, energy is about to become even cheaper than it already is, despite falling oil prices. Below are two articles you should read, back to back. The first is a projection from Citigroup, a traditionally conservative institution, that advancing battery technology is going to be even more disruptive than solar, supplanting the entire fossil fuel industry withing the next *decade*. The second is a brilliant explanation of Saudi Arabia’s smart and prescient move to drop oil prices. Time is running out for fossil fuels to remain competitive, so with each passing day remaining reserves are becoming less valuable. Soon they will be worthless. Better to make some money now while the world still needs your oil, than none later when the world has moved on to something better.
We are in the midst of massive economic disruption and growing structural unemployment caused by the automation of increasingly large segments of the economy. These days very few people are actually needed to provide the basic necessities of an affluent society. This is what Buckminster Fuller called ephermalization, the ability to do more and more with less and less. But rather than an increase in leisure time one would expect from such gains, we have record levels of poverty and wealth disparity. Despite an economy that continues to grow in per capita terms, the gains of that economy flow into ever fewer hands.
A lot of people blame the “free” market, but the situation is anything but. The source of the problem is built-in structural theft facilitated by the state to benefit an increasingly small, politically connected, economic elite. Those gains in wealth have been enclosed as a source of rent through government enforcement of artificial scarcity using intellectual property laws and regulatory barriers to prevent genuine competition, and the radical distribution of wealth it would generate.
You can see how this theft works in the current wireless services market. The technology exists now for everyone in the world to have high-bandwidth communications (data and voice) with anyone else in the world for free, without any company or middle man whatsoever, using super cheap devices that cost less than $20. When something is free, it’s one less thing you have to buy, and one less thing you have to work for. As far as radical abundance is concerned there is no functional difference between making everyone richer and making everything cheaper. So what kind of technology enables the creation of a free worldwide communications network? It’s called software defined radio, and it’s been around for more than a decade. It completely solves the spectrum scarcity problem by finding, negotiating, and determining moment-by-moment, on the fly, the most efficient frequency for any given communication. This happens at the device level, so it renders the need for centrally controlling towers, and their bandwidth bottlenecks, completely obsolete. By bypassing these lower bandwidth cell towers, this decentralized, p2p, spectrum allocation protocol increases available bandwidth over traditional cell networks by three orders of magnitude. The result is profound – by ditching wireless service companies we gain a one thousand fold increase in wireless bandwidth! The only problem with this plan is it’s illegal.
What we get instead are companies like Artemis Network’s licensing this technology (PCell) so that you’ll have to keep paying your wireless bill to use it. Say again? You’ll have to keep paying your old company every month for something they no longer provide. Imagine a scenario in which up until now you’ve always paid Peter to fetch your daily water because he had the specialized tools to do so. Then one day you figured out how to do it yourself easier and cheaper. But because of some law on the books you still have to pay Peter for the water you’re getting yourself. This is outrageous, but it is exactly the kind of situation we now have with PCell within the existing regulatory landscape. A middle man, a thief, or in this case your wireless service provider, is forcing you to pay the same “service” fee you’ve been paying for a service you no longer use, and they no longer provide. Artemis Networks is calling this new technology “personal cellular”, but it is anything but. It’s completely owned and licensed by your wireless service provider. This obscene state of affairs is enabled through enforcement of obsolete spectrum scarcity laws on a resource that is no longer scarce. I repeat – the only reason we don’t have super fast, super cheap worldwide communications is because of artificial scarcity imposed by government regulation and coercion.
The same holds true for virtually every sector of the economy. Luckily for us the trend is shifting both on the ground and in the halls of government. At the state level we’re seeing a loosening of restrictions on home based businesses. For example, California just passed a Homemade Food Cottage Business bill that makes it easier for home based business to sell food directly to the public. Meanwhile the tools of abundance are multiplying faster than they can be expropriated, because the means of finance (cryptocurrencies, crowdfunding, peer lending, etc) manufacturing and production (3d printing, permaculture, etc.) and energy (solar, microhydro) are decentralizing outside of the control of regulators. Laws are only as good as they can be enforced. We’ve already seen this battle lost by the music industry. Other parts of the economy are next. 3d printing is going to disintermediate the manufacturing business the same way Napster and Bittorent disintermediated the music business. At some point, open-source software radios are going to hit the streets, regardless of the laws in place, and once that genie is out of the bottle, there is no putting it back in.
But until these technologies of abundance break out we’re going to see state-sponsored capitalism, and it’s artificial scarcities and sources of rent, continue to expropriate as much of this abundance and wealth for itself and its crony benefactors as possible. What they don’t realize is by depriving us access to the tools of abundance they are actually undermining the same system it so desperately depends on. You can’t bleed a bled horse, and the sources of capital the state relies on to pay for this theft are drying up under a mountain of unsustainable debt. Debt incurred for the most part by a massive and out of control national security state apparatus and the corporate giants that depend on it. It’s bankrupting itself through anti-competitive business practices that can only be maintained by bleeding dry the very customer base they depend on, both for taxes to finance it, and dollars to buy the crap these state-backed corporations are selling. It’s an incestuous and codependent relationship of corporation and state (not to mention Ponzi scheme), caught in a death spiral it cannot escape. Death of the old system is inevitable. The only question is when.
The best we can hope for is an inflection point high enough on the graph, where the tools of abundance pick us up as the old system collapses.
In the meantime, innovations like decentralized autonomous organizations are opening up possibilities for creating wealth dividends for everyone in a decentralized and distributed manner.
Imagine the possibility that within 50 years, a thousand human civilization equivalents of greater wonder, beauty and prosperity than we have now:
Advances in robotics and additive manufacturing have become game‐changing for the prospects of space industry. It has become feasible to bootstrap a self‐sustaining, self‐expanding industry at reasonably low cost. Simple modeling was developed to identify the main parameters of successful bootstrapping. This indicates that bootstrapping can be achieved with as little as 12 metric tons (MT) landed on the Moon during a period of about 20 years. The equipment will be teleoperated and then transitioned to full autonomy so the industry can spread to the asteroid belt and beyond. The strategy begins with a sub‐replicating system and evolves it toward full self‐sustainability (full closure) via an in situ technology spiral. The industry grows exponentially due to the free real estate, energy, and material resources of space. The mass of industrial assets at the end of bootstrapping will be 156 MT with 60 humanoid robots, or as high as 40,000 MT with as many as 100,000 humanoid robots if faster manufacturing is supported by launching a total of 41 MT to the Moon. Within another few decades with no further investment, it can have millions of times the industrial capacity of the United States. Modeling over wide parameter ranges indicates this is reasonable, but further analysis is needed. This industry promises to revolutionize the human condition.
This becomes an ever more tangible possibility as SpaceX revolutionizes commercial spaceflight, and interplanetary propulsion methods reach specific impulses of 250,000 seconds. This is equal to 1 pound of fuel delivering 1 pound of thrust for 250,000 seconds (~3 days), or 250,000 pounds of thrust for one second. Either way it’s a lot! It means rapid (multi-week) flexible travel anywhere in the solar system.
Ever since I first read about Bucky Fuller’s Design Science Revolution, I’ve taken the proactive position that no problem is unsolvable given enough will. I’ve lived long enough now to know there are solutions to every problem we have, including the more difficult ones (the unknown unknowns). It has been a bit discouraging to see most thinking still stuck within the first three quadrants, with many of the more conscious and smart people hanging out in the upper left quadrant – the Spore quadrant. The essence of this quadrant is that it’s all “going to shit”, but we can still plant seeds or “spores” of resilience now that will eventually sprout in the far future.” (John Robb, who I have a great deal of respect, is the most notable person in this category). For us thrivability people however we see the crisis as an opportunity, an inflection point where things can get a lot better. Sometimes it takes crisis to push us in the right evolutionary direction. As Hydra’s we see the network, the global brain, as coming to a megaconvergence just as we face a megacrisis. The Hydra’s see the same “facts” as the Spores, but see far more opportunity for positive change.
P2p technologies are one great example. They have the power to break the entire stranglehold on mind, hearts and innovation that is currently holding humanity back, way back. Like the medieval church before it, the current economic elites have rigged the system for their benefit, in large part by locking up and controlling as many liberating technologies as they can. They are the winners with their spoils, and they are going to hold onto them as long as possible. But it is too late for them – the genie is out of the bottle. The network is democratizing the entire information universe– ideas, movies, books, formulas, recipes, instructions, designs, and now physical objects – tools, manufacturing processes, replicating 3d printers, and soon every means of production. If you want more information on how this works, I’ve detailed a bit the ingredients that will enable this “Hyrda” post-scarcity world to emerge.
I have identified just three necessary ingredients for achieving a fully sustainable, post-scarcity economy – open information, open manufacturing and full regenerative use of local materials. All of these are proving to be unstoppable.
Lets look at each of them in a little detail:
1) Open Information – The modern trend towards increasingly open information began with the Gutenberg printing press in 1436 and became unstoppable ever since. There is not a single instance anywhere in history where information has been successfully censored indefinitely. The Internet is merely the most recent and dramatic example of this ongoing information explosion. Despite the best efforts of powerful interests everywhere to control and censor information, information wants to be free, and makes it so. The end result will be a totally decentralized and uncensored global network “brain” where everyone will be able to create, share and receive bits from anyone else. For example, the Pirate Bay, the biggest victim of censorship attacks, is now designing and building solar powered, high-altitude (70,000 feet) wireless servers that will be extraordinarily difficult to shut down. Open source hardware devices like the $50 Arduino and $25 Rasberry Pi, are only the beginning of cheap, widely available general purpose computing devices. With the rapid digitization of everything, including books, music, movies, money, recipes, formulas, designs, manufacturing processes, patents, copyrights, trade secrets, state secrets, solutions of every kind, and most importantly computation itself, the genie is out of the bottle for good on this one. No amount of laws or wars to stop it will succeed. Sadly, until the old order collapses, much of the progress in these domains will be done by outlaws.
2) Open Manufacturing – With the advent of open-source desktop manufacturing, the means to create physical goods locally will be made available to all. Open sourced manufacturing generates some dramatically positive outcomes:
- Radically improved product design without planned obsolescence – think 50-100 year product lifetimes. Indefinite product lifetimes means no further expenditures on tools, and radically reduced requirements for new materials. This translates to far less consumption, waste and strain on the planet.
- Modular construction methods for easy and rapid construction, repair and upgrading. Example: Wikispeed designed a totally modular car in less than 3 months that gets 100mpg, has 10 minute average repair times, and can be changed from a gasoline to an electric car (and back again!) in less than an hour. Currently automobiles are deliberately designed to fail within a few years, in which repairs and parts are both expensive and difficult to replace. This planned obsolescence is a deliberate design flaw for maximizing auto industry/auto mechanic profit margins. Open source automobiles totally eliminates this waste and expense.
- Designed from the beginning to use local and biofriendly sources of raw materials – current business models favor the use of expensive or hard to obtain materials for maximizing profit margins. If the materials are cheap and readily available, prices can’t be fixed by resource hoarding. There are strong incentives withing the current closed-source system for incumbents to use materials and processes that are hard to duplicate elsewhere. Prices only drop when their is genuine competition in raw materials. By designing open-source products to use locally available and renewable resources, the price fixers, hoarders, renters and other middle-men are completely cut of of the equation.
3) 100% Regenerative Use of Local Materials – Currently many of the products of our civilization require precious materials from far away places. However the means to create advanced technologies like high capacity batteries and computer processors is becoming possible using everyday organic materials like carbon. A good example is graphene, a new and spectacular type of carbon molecule whose strength and electrical conductivity is greater than any material ever recorded. Already people have figured out to make graphene supercapacitors and do microlithography (the process used to make microchips) using nothing more than a $50 DVD burner! The continued work on creating new materials using readily available recyclable and biodegradable resources makes the possibility of having an fully regenerative, earth friendly, advanced technological, post-scarcity, thriving abundant civilization, a tangible possibility. See Spime.